Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I Wanted to be an Adoptee": a Foster Kid's Desire for Love, Family. and Security

Guest Entry by Nathaniel Christopher

Nathaniel, a photo from that summer
Nathaniel is a foster alumni, the son of an adult adoptee, and a freelance journalist in Vancouver, British Colombia.  More of Nathaniel's work can be found at his website..  Here is one last post for National Adoption Awareness Month.

“Who was that couple who dropped you off?” asked an older girl sitting next to me on the swings at Franklyn Street Park in Nanaimo.

“Uh…,well I live with them,” I respond, digging my feet into the gravel, desperate for a cushion of ambiguity.

 “Are they your parents, or what?”

“No, they're my foster parents,” I said, tightly grabbing the chain.

I wished they were my real parents. They were young and had ambition for their future. I saw them going places and desperately wanted a place in that future, but every so often someone reminded me it was all a fa├žade.

It only took one question to blow the fantasy.

“Why are you in foster care?” said the girl, her face fixed on mine. 

I was desperate for an exit but her calm mannerisms and probing interest in my affairs kept me shamefully tethered to the red metal frame.

That previous summer my first foster mother, who lived two blocks from the park, had enrolled me in a summer program there. My new foster parents, who lived on the other side of town, ensured that I remained in the program for the rest of the summer. At the end of every afternoon, like clockwork, they would be there to pick me up in their blue Chevrolet Cavalier.

Revealing the truth of my situation made me vulnerable. It had only been a year, but I had undergone a huge identity shift. I was no longer the "old" Nathaniel who was disruptive, hyper, and chaotic. I was now the “new” Nathaniel who was nice, good and calm.

Talking about my status as a kid in foster care in 1991 meant addressing my shortcomings as a child and student.

Judge me by what I am now, forget everything about who I was, I said to myself. 

The previous week my foster father, a straight  23 year old man visited every record store in town in a quest to locate a Nancy Sinatra album I wanted. “Do you have ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’’ by Nancy Sinatra?” he asked each cashier without a hint of embarrassment.

He and my foster mother stood up for me, protected me, and loved me. When people referred to me as their son I wouldn’t correct them - nor would they.

They fought with my social workers to get me a new bike; they bought me new clothes, drove me to school every day and even mused about getting me braces. "If kids ask you what happened to your teeth you can just say you lost a fight with a lawnmower!" said my foster mother with pride.

Although my social workers me as a foster kid in their notebooks, it wasn’t an identity I clung to. I saw myself as part of a new family unit the foster kid label s a necessary and unpleasant step toward my goal of family stability.

My plans were derailed when their marriage ended and I went on to live with my foster mother. Eventually that placement broke down and I bounced off to yet another home.

I thought the world revolved around me blamed myself for the breakdown. I felt intense anger and grief over the separation. In her status report my childcare worker noted my struggle with loss, anger, and confusion.

"To come to terms with his losses, Nathaniel will need to attend to his feelings about his relationship with his foster parents and process his change from extreme attachment to extreme separation from his foster mother,” she wrote.

Aside from a few board games and a record that I liked, school was the only thing I had left from that "golden era" of family, stability and hope. My new foster parents and social worker wanted to move me to a school closer to my new placement, to their practical reality of who I was and where I belonged.

“If we, as professionals, have Nathaniel's best interests in mind, we will allow him to complete, perhaps his happiest year of school life, at Chase River Elementary School,” wrote my grade six teacher in a letter to my social worker.

My request to stay at Chase River is one of the few things I said that resonated with my social workers. "My friends are there," I said in an attempt to mask my desperation for familiarity with a facade of childlike enthusiasm for friendship.

Eighteen months and four homes after my summer at Franklyn Street Park, it was up to me to maintain any links with my past.

To that end I took two GMC "goldfish" city buses to school and back every day. I paid the 75 cent fare with a book of light blue bus stamps provided by the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Families.

"Is this seat taken?" asked a smartly dressed woman of perhaps 80 years who ignored the many empty seats in favour of the aisle seat next to me. Perhaps it’s her wisdom of age or my dazed, dejected expression, but she lent a wise and intuitive voice to my grief that I thought invisible to others.

"I was young once like you, many years ago." she said in a flat almost inaudible tone. Her clipped British mannerisms belied her forward observations. "I was alone," she said looking straight ahead, but talking directly to me. "So I turned to God."